The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has called on Minnesota officials to stop the series of protest coverage-related attacks on credentialed journalists.
In a June 2 letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and head of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the committee, whose members include virtually all the major news outlets and their association's, said police have "arrested, detained, threatened and physically assaulted journalists with rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, batons, and fists."
It said in all cases there were "strong indications" that the police knew they were members of the press.
"The right of the press to document police activity is foundational to our democracy and has long been recognized and protected by the courts," they wrote.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz apologized for the arrest of a CNN news crew. The committee acknowledged the apology and said interactions between police and journalists had improved, but said even one arrest or assault when law enforcement know it is a journalist is a profound violation of the First Amendment.
And there was more than one. The committee cited a TV reporter pepper sprayed and a freelance journalist who lost an eye to a rubber bullet while "clearly in the act of photographing police," as well as the that on-camera arrest of CNN's Omar Jimenez, and crew, plus more that a dozen other incidents it said it has documented.
The committee asked the governor to instruct officers that the news media are exempt from curfews and sought other assurances to:
• "Instruct your officers and staff that the arrest or physical attack of a journalist who is compliant with reasonable police orders is a clearly established First Amendment violation;
• "Take swift action to discipline any officer who is found to have arrested or assaulted a journalist engaged in newsgathering;
• "Inform your officers that they themselves could be subject to legal liability for violating these rights;
• "Ensure that crowd control tactics are appropriate and proportional, and are designed to prevent collateral harm to journalists covering the protests;
• "Continue to exempt members of the news media from mobility restrictions, including, and especially, curfews; and
• "Release all information about arrests of or physical interactions with the press to the public to allow it to evaluate the legitimacy of police conduct."
President Donald Trump has long attacked journalists as fake or politically motivated or dangerous enemies of the people, leading to his being branded, as a presidential candidate, by the Committee to Protect Journalists as a threat to press freedom "unknown in modern history."
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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